Gentlemen, it’s your time to shine!

May 2024

Gentlemen, it's your time to shine!

For the nineteenth-century gentleman, not much was possible by way of adornment: a watch, a wedding ring, a pair of cufflinks or a tie pin, possibly a signet ring engraved with the family crest. Change came in the 1920s and again in the 1960s. Now the number of jewellers catering for men with a magpie tendency is increasing exponentially.


ecent years have seen brooches set with precious gems pinned to the lapels of models and modern dandies; the heirs to Beau Brummell or, closer in time, Karl Lagerfeld’s companion Jacques de Bascher. Pearls, a favourite of French king Henri III as well as English monarch Charles I, are again a part of certain gentlemen’s attire – a trend revived by Parisian jeweller Marc Deloche who in 2021 introduced a range of men’s jewellery composed of pearls, chains and precious metals: a reminder that for centuries, men decked themselves in jewels, and pearls were not a women-only affair.

“Men wore jewellery until the time of the French Revolution,” comments Pierre Rainero, director of image, style and heritage at Cartier, “Under Louis XV and Louis XVI, men wore necklaces, while waistcoats with floral embroideries lent themselves to diamonds.” The decline in popularity of men’s jewellery began in the nineteenth century, a consequence of political, economic and societal factors. “Men were taking on a more clearly defined role,” Rainero continues. “Whereas an eighteenth-century courtier didn’t work, by the nineteenth century, men had professions. The aristocratic model was gradually replaced by the bourgeois model.”

Timothée Chalamet attended the Dune: Part Two premiere in a bespoke Cartier necklace, having worn another Cartier unique piece for the Wonka premiere in 2023. Cartier Photographer: ©Julian Ungano
Timothée Chalamet attended the Dune: Part Two premiere in a bespoke Cartier necklace, having worn another Cartier unique piece for the Wonka premiere in 2023. Cartier Photographer: ©Julian Ungano

The nineteenth century spells the end of men’s jewellery

Unlike the Protestant reformer John Calvin who, in 1560, was forced to enact sumptuary laws to restrict extravagant dress,nineteenth-century conservatives had fashion on their side. Western gentlemen put their jewellery away when trousers replaced silk breeches. Their choice of precious adornment was now severely restricted, limited to a pocket watch or a wristwatch, a wedding ring, cufflinks, a tie pin or a signet ring engraved with the family crest. Symbols of wealth and power, opulent jewels set with precious stones transitioned from a gentleman’s chest to the throat and earlobes of his spouse, who wore them as an indication of her husband’s status.

Tastes and behaviour changed along with the century and the advent of the modern world. Authors, actors, poets and aesthetes, the likes of Jean Cocteau and, later, Cary Grant, were just some of the men who wore Cartier’s Trinity ring, introduced in 1924 (see page 38). The sexual revolution and the rise of a more casual culture in the 1960s loosened sartorial codes. No-one was surprised to see jewellery designed with either (or neither) gender in mind.

The 1960s and unisex jewellery

After a decade at Cartier, in 1965 Jean Dinh Van set up his own jewellery studio and quickly saw the need for designs that were coded neither masculine nor feminine. “Jean Dinh Van’s jewellery has such a universal quality the question of being for men or for women never arose,” said Corinne Le Foll, managing director of Dinh Van, in an interview. “He designed jewellery with geometric forms for all genders, without distinction. The idea for the Menottes came from a keyring. Soon men and women were wearing them as a symbol of love and attachment. Men have been buying Dinh Van jewellery ever since the brand was established. They like its minimalist style. The rectangular-linked Maillon bracelet is as popular with men as it is with women. The notch system means they can be fastened together. Some couples buy one each, then she borrows his and wears the two together as a necklace or a double bracelet.”

Dinh Van Maillon bracelet in yellow gold. ©Dinh Van
Dinh Van Maillon bracelet in yellow gold. ©Dinh Van

Sixties jewellery has a particular talent for appealing to both sexes and over a long time. Launched in 1966 by Fred, the Force 10 bracelet is a case in point. Brand founder Fred Samuel remembers how it came about: “My eldest son had this amusing idea to plait sailing ropes and secure the ends with rivets to make a bracelet for his wife. Then, for their anniversary, he replaced the rivets with a shackle-shaped gold clasp and, to make it more precious, added links. And there you have it, the first Force 10!” The collection remains a best-seller in its many versions, with or without diamonds.

Force 10 Bracelet XL white gold and diamonds. ©Fred
Force 10 Bracelet XL white gold and diamonds. ©Fred

The Love bracelet, for her, for him, for ever

Another unisex design, the Cartier Love bracelet, followed three years later, in 1969. Its creator, Italian-born Aldo Cipullo, dreamed up this future icon after a difficult breakup. He described how he had “felt very sad. I wanted something no one could take away from me. I was searching for a permanent symbol of love.”

The bracelet he imagined – a minimalist band composed of rigid semi-circles dotted with screwheads – abides by the “form follows function” principle advocated by the American architect Louis Sullivan. Cipullo imagined it as a love token for couples: the person who gives the bracelet fastens it to their partner’s wrist and keeps the tiny screwdriver, “locking” their relationship. At a time when free love was all the rage, rather than wedding rings, couples would exchange Love bracelets, which Cipullo compared to “modern love handcuffs”.

“Aldo Cipullo captured the spirit of the time when sexual liberation and casual luxury were coming to the fore,” says Vivienne Becker, author of Cipullo: Making Jewelry Modern. In her book, Becker tells how Tiffany & Co. passed over the design which was snapped up by Cartier New York. For the launch, Cartier gifted a pair of bracelets to 25 famous couples, including Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, Nancy and Frank Sinatra, and Ali MacGraw and Steve McQueen.

In 2008 Cartier added an open version of the bracelet which could be slipped off in an emergency. Cipullo was behind another of Cartier’s unisex bracelets, launched in 1972. Like the Love, the Juste un Clou remains a sought-after piece.

Kings of bling

Eschewing the discretion of a simple gold bangle, Eighties hip-hop artists draped themselves in gigantic diamond-encrusted chains and restored jewellery’s role as a badge of wealth and a yardstick for the wearer’s ego. The vast majority of these stars came from humble beginnings, growing up in the housing projects of America’s major cities, and were unapologetic in flaunting their success, measured in dollars and carats. They had everything to prove, not least that they were infinitely richer than their accountant, and no limits in doing so.

They wore pendants the size of a dinner plates. Gold and diamond grills on their teeth. Some even had diamonds implanted in their skin. This was peak bling, the equivalent of hanging a 7-figure cheque around your neck.

Pharrell Williams' “Son of a Pharaoh” auction was held by digital-first auction house JOOPITER on 20 October 2022 in New York City. His Jacob & Co. N.E.R.D. Character Pendant Chain sold for an impressive .18 million. Courtesy of Jacob & Co.
Pharrell Williams’ “Son of a Pharaoh” auction was held by digital-first auction house JOOPITER on 20 October 2022 in New York City. His Jacob & Co. N.E.R.D. Character Pendant Chain sold for an impressive $2.18 million. Courtesy of Jacob & Co.

A Soviet-born émigré was quick to catch on to this trend and become the “official” supplier of these rappers’ delights, making his own American dream come true in the process. That man was Jacob Arabov, nicknamed Jacob The Jeweler and future founder of Jacob & Co. His break came when in 1993 he sold a diamond ring to Faith Evans, the wife of rap star The Notorious B.I.G. who became a fan of Arabov’s creations himself.

With this endorsement, soon the entire hip-hop crowd – Tupac, 50 Cent, Missy Eliott, Kanye West, Sean “Diddy” Combs, Jay-Z and countless others – wanted to buy Arabov’s over-the-top designs. Beyoncé’s husband namechecked him in Girl’s Best Friend. Slick Rick told The New York Times, “Jacob is the only one in the diamond district that really caters to the style that rappers and urban minorities are digging now.” The rapper commissioned the jeweller to make custom eye patches in gold studded with multi-coloured precious stones or diamonds. One, with a camouflage pattern, was auctioned at Sotheby’s in 2020.

Bling is beyond considerations of good or bad taste. It is a parallel world on a scale of its own and with its own rules. In 2021 Lil Uzi Vert had a natural pink diamond worth $24 million embedded in his forehead. Which fans ripped out during one of his concerts. And which he later recovered. Oof! Some of these artists go on to form collaborations with the most storied jewellery houses. In 2018 A$AP Ferg became the first male rapper to work as a brand ambassador for Tiffany & Co. Talking with him about his role, The New York Times wrote “He believes in the artistic value of the jewellery he’s promoting – referring to himself as ‘a walking MoMA installation’.”

Diamonds are a man’s best friend

On the subject of Tiffany, immediately after its takeover by the LVMH group in January 2021, the American house jumped on the men’s jewellery bandwagon and in April that year launched the first engagement ring for men. Dubbed the Charles Tiffany Setting, it features a round brilliant-cut diamond or an emerald-cut diamond. Made for men who like women, or men, or both, according to the press material it “honours the jeweller’s long-standing legacy in love and inclusivity, paving the way for new traditions to celebrate our unique love stories and honour our most cherished commitments to one another.” In a similar vein, the Tiffany Lock collection, which launched in early 2023, is designed for both sexes.

The Charles Tiffany Setting, the first men's engagement ring ©Tiffany
The Charles Tiffany Setting, the first men’s engagement ring ©Tiffany

Precious jewellery has slowly made inroads to become the all-important final flourish, adding a touch of sophisticated cool to a man’s outfit. Fashion has never feared an oxymoron. Jewellery worn on the catwalk was all the more warmly received when it accompanied the genderless trend that emerged around 2015.

The Gem Dior jewellery collection. ©Dior
The Gem Dior jewellery collection. ©Dior

This is a fantastic playing field for brands that make both clothing and jewellery for men, such as Dior and Louis Vuitton. Dior launched its Gem Dior collection, designed by Victoire de Castellane, in 2021 while in January this year Vuitton debuted Les Gastons Vuitton, a line of men’s jewellery by the house’s artistic director for watches and jewellery, Francesca Amfitheatrof.

Louis Vuitton Fine Jewellery Les Gastons Vuitton. Photographer: ©Thurstan Redding
Louis Vuitton Fine Jewellery Les Gastons Vuitton. Photographer: ©Thurstan Redding

The big names are not alone in targeting a male demographic. Many independent jewellers offer unisex or men’s lines, or, like Akillis, the brand Caroline Gaspard founded in 2007, have simply chosen not to choose. “I wanted to create a modern jewellery brand that lets men and women express their individuality,” Gaspard says. “I love the idea of unisex jewellery. Everyone should be able to share their favourite pieces with their partner. Collections should reflect personality, not gender.”

Winter 2023 Collection. ©Akillis
Winter 2023 Collection. ©Akillis

Pasquale Bruni, Accendimi collection for men. ©Pasquale Bruni
Pasquale Bruni, Accendimi collection for men. ©Pasquale Bruni

Swiss designer Ligia Dias fell for the beauty of a timeless shape. “In 2009 my agent asked me to design some men’s jewellery. The market was starting to grow and she didn’t want me to miss out on the momentum. Back then I designed two collections a year which I showed in Paris during Fashion Weeks. I sketched out a ring and a bracelet shaped like a Möbius strip and named them Max, after the Swiss architect Max Bill.” Dias makes each piece to order, in silver, bronze or gold.

Max ring in yellow gold. ©Ligia Dias
Max ring in yellow gold. ©Ligia Dias


The Geneva-based gemmologist and jeweller Elke Berr came up with the idea for her Rock’N Rose capsule collection after French DJ Bob Sinclar commissioned her for a necklace similar to the one Serge Gainsbourg wore, which was set with an oval sapphire. “I suggested a pendant with a natural, untreated, pear-shaped black diamond with grey tones, which is not an easy stone to find. He was so taken with it, he ordered another for his twins.” Bouncing off her design for Sinclar, Berr created a complete line of versatile rings and bracelets in sizes that adapt to men’s and women’s wrists, adorned with black, cognac or white diamonds, preferring recycled gold and repurposed diamonds for sustainability.

Rock'N Rose collection. ©Elke Berr
Rock’N Rose collection. ©Elke Berr

Men today can wear anything they like, regardless of age, orientation or profession. Like a white Charvet shirt or a pair of boyfriend jeans, genderless jewellery is swapped between him and her. No longer an indication of belonging to a particular social class, jewellery is seen simply as an accessory.

Alain Borgeaud is director of heritage at Piaget. “I adore rings,” he says. “As a jeweller, ideas pop into my head and I sketch them. The ring I’m wearing is set with princess-cut diamonds. It’s my own design which I had made for my sixtieth birthday. I gifted myself three rings for my thirty years at Piaget and, since I turned forty, I’ve bought myself a ring every decade. I don’t believe men’s jewellery should be limited to a watch. I say yes to everything that can enrich a man’s appearance. It’s historical. Look at portraits of Henry VIII. He’s dripping with jewellery! Then there’s the Maharaja of Patiala’s spectacular necklace. Of course, the Maharani of Baroda owned some splendid jewels but the men were not so badly off themselves! I would have loved to live in India during that period. Jewellery is how I express myself. It’s my job and my passion. It’s a way of showing who we are, of distinguishing ourselves from others. I care about my creations but I don’t care about other people’s gaze.”

Red-carpet sparkle

For a star like as Timothée Chalamet, being seen, on screen and off, is part of the job. For the 2020 Oscars, the Franco-American actor accessorised a Prada jacket with a vintage diamond and ruby Cartier brooch from 1955. Indeed, the actor rarely makes a red-carpet appearance without some sparkling jewels.

For the world premiere of Wonka, he wore a haute joaillerie necklace set with 900 coloured gemstones. Custom-made by Cartier (Chalamet is an ambassador for the jewellery house), this unique piece then entered the Cartier Collection. For another premiere, in London in February, this time for Dune: Part Two, the actor sported a tubular necklace that sparkled with 900 white, yellow, orange and brown diamonds, blue sapphires and spinels. Also created by the Parisian jeweller, its Dune-inspired references range from Arrakis’s desert landscape to the Fremen’s startlingly blue eyes.

Chalamet isn’t the only actor to dip into his jewellery box. Others like to put on the sparkle at film and music industry awards, and perhaps none more so than Adrian Brody. At the 2023 Cannes Film Festival, the star of Wes Anderson’s Asteroid City rocked a stunning brooch by jewellery artist Elsa Jin. Named Night Dance, crafted from titanium and set with yellow diamonds, black diamonds and a golden pearl, it is one of three precious brooches made especially for men by this discreet jeweller whose creations are true works of art.

On the occasion of the Elton John AIDS Foundation's 32nd Annual Academy Awards Viewing Party, held on March 10th in Los Angeles, Neil Patrick Harris was wearing a pair of “leaves” clips, 1960, in white gold, platinum and diamonds, from Boucheron's private collection.
On the occasion of the Elton John AIDS Foundation’s 32nd Annual Academy Awards Viewing Party, held on March 10th in Los Angeles, Neil Patrick Harris was wearing a pair of “leaves” clips, 1960, in white gold, platinum and diamonds, from Boucheron’s private collection.

According to a Euromonitor report published by French news weekly Le Point, the men’s jewellery market is worth an estimated €6.6 billion. Gentlemen, it’s your time to shine!